Erratic climatic conditions to lower first flush Darjeeling tea production

Women plucking darjeeling tea
Erratic climatic conditions this year are taking toll on the production of the first flush of the famed Darjeeling tea, with industry players apprehending a drop of at least 30 to 40 percent in production compared to last year.
Officials of the Darjeeling Tea Association (DTA), an umbrella organisation of tea gardens in the hills, said overall production of Darjeeling tea is expected to be 5-10 per cent lower this year. Talking to reporters today, DTA principal advisor Sandeep Mukherjee said, “The first flush this year has been the worst. Last year, we saw production at 2-2.5 million kilograms, but as of April this year, we have had 30-40 per cent less produce and this is worrisome.”
Factors such as uneven rainfall, a rise in temperature and the recent hailstorm have affected the first flush, said Mukherjee. “The temperature is nearly two to three degrees higher than last year, while the rainfall received is 50-60 per cent less. Add to this the 6-7 inches of hailstorm in March, which destroyed the crop and several gardens. We have no hope of good production,” he said.
The first flush, which fetches premium prices in the domestic and international markets, is produced between the months of February and April-end. Ideally, 1.5-2mm of rainfall spread over from November to March and not too hot conditions make for a good first flush Darjeeling tea.
Not only the climatic conditions, but the weak Euro-zone is also playing spoilsport. “The weak economy in the Euro-zone has impacted the demand for Darjeeling tea. The first flush is exported to European countries like Germany, France and Japan,” said Mukherjee.
Another threat the Darjeeling tea industry is facing, and which could be a major challenge in the near future, is the influx of illegal tea leaves from Nepal that are finding their way big time in the country. “Yes, we have to admit that this (Nepal tea) is turning to be a big threat for the reputation and genuineness of Darjeeling tea. We have found  huge amounts of tea leaves from Nepal being sold as “tea from the Himalayas” in Siliguri and Kolkata and also in some European countries. This has the potential to spread quickly because the two products cannot be differentiated easily. Darjeeling tea also falls under the same category,” the DTA principal advisor said.
The 87 gardens in the hills produce around 9 million kg of tea annually. Darjeeling tea is also included and protected under the Global Indicator (GI) for its safeguard on the lines of Champagne. “We have written to the government about the influx of Nepal tea in the country. We will take up the issue again with both the state and central governments to find ways to stop this dangerous trend before it goes out of hand,” said Mukherjee. (EOIC)

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